Choosing stories wisely solves many speaking problems

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Today I witnessed a student struggle initially with an impromptu speech. He started out so general that he covered his topic in only 15 seconds, leave a full 45 seconds to meet his minimum. For impromptu speeches, I’ll nudge them a little if they get stuck, and he responded, but only plowed ahead a little bit before grinding once again to a halt.

He was almost at his minimum time at that point, so I almost “helped” him out by starting to applaud, relieving him of his discomfort. Before I could, though, an expression of recognition crossed his face. Cliché it might be, but it was like the sudden illumination of a light bulb. He had instantly recalled, then over the next minute recounted, an actual story of something that happened to him when he was young.

Delivery hesitancy disappeared. Animation flowed into his gestures and his voice like water suddenly filling a hose. Concern for the “right” words evaporated as they naturally formed to support his descriptions, vicariously taking the audience with him into memory and leaving them laughing, leaning forward, wanting to know what happened next.

Finding his story swept aside problems in organization, content, delivery, motivation, energy, engaging the audience, effectively using time, and confidence.

We don’t do impromptu speeches in class to learn how to do impromptu speeches, although having the skills to think on one’s feet comes in handy. We do them to help learn about organization for the ear, and about conversational delivery. I think something opened up for that student that he can now take into his prepared speeches. With time to think about it outside class, he can go into his story without fumbling, without yielding to the temptation to write it all out word-for-word.

What about you? Have you had a communication breakthrough experience like that? Have you discovered the power of a good story to anchor the rest of your speech?

Share this, please!

Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.